By Juan Soto
Borough residents held a rally Sunday to demand the restoration of the Rockaway Beach Line, an LIRR train that left the station in 1962 for the last time and took riders from Penn Station in midtown Manhattan to Ozone Park, Rego Park and across Jamaica Bay to the Rockaways.
Efforts are underway to reactive the 3.5-mile north-south transit corridor parallel to Woodhaven Boulevard, a project that would cost about $700 million. Originally the LIRR line extended south to Rockaway. A fire severed the line in 1950, and the section between Ozone Park to the Rockaway was converted to the A train subway line.
“It would be an amazing ride,” said Phil McManus, president of the Queens Public Transit Committee, an advocacy group for better transportation. “People just know it’s common sense to open this rail again.”
McManus pointed out the price tag for reactivating a rail line that a recent Queens College study said would attract 500,000 commuters “is half of what the new $1.4 billion Fulton Street station cost just to put a hole in a roof.”
The borough is now divided between those who support the reactivation of the Rockaway Beach LIRR line and those who want the construction of a High Line-style park known as the Queensway on the abandoned tracks .
“I am opposed to the park-only idea,” the transit advocate said. “We are not closed to the idea of the park because the railway can be shared.”
During Sunday’s rally, backers of reviving the beach line collected signed petitions at the intersection of Queens Boulevard and Woodhaven Boulevard as well as over by the Queens Center Mall. “It was great,” he said. “More people than expected showed up.”
McManus said U.S. Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) and Hakeem Jeffreies (D-Brookyn) and other elected city and state officials support the restoration of the Rockaway Beach Line.
On the other hand, the QueensWay project has the backing of U.S. Reps. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) and Grace Meng (D-Flushing), and other local officials.
“The Rockaway Beach Line will unite us, while the QueensWay plan will continue to divide us,” McManus said.
But the QueensWay supporters said that, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Port Authority, the reactivation of the Rockaway Beach LIRR “is not a feasible option because of the extraordinary cost of building it.”
A spokesman for the Friends of the Queensway added, “When the facts are presented, the overwhelming impacts and drawbacks associated with rail reactivation are obvious.”
For the promoters of the High Line-style park, their plan “is the best and only way to maximize the quality of life and economic development benefits that will be realized when this property is adaptively reused for the community.”
But the reviving of this line, according to McManus, will also increase property values in the surrounding areas.
“We need to expand the transit system in Queens,” he said. “Property values will explode.”
The Queens Public Transit Committee also called for the elimination of unnecessary bus transfers, the elimination of the Cross Bay Boulevard bridge toll, faster bus service and steps to improve the subway system.
“We are trying our best to get this done,” McManus said.